Raising cash in a hurry #16: Return not-so-recent purchases

Update May 2009: If you were planning to return a item to Circuit City, we have some bad news for you. Don't fritter away your opportunity to return goods to other national retailers - who knows which one will go belly-up next?

In high school, I was really a whiz at money management. I had my lunch budget figured out: a chocolate chip cookie with ice cream was $1.50, and I carefully allowed a few quarters left over for sour cream-and-onion potato chips. Sweet and savory: a balanced diet! I always paid for my cheerleading uniform before school started (priorities!). And I had a great way of making extra cash: returning stuff.

My best girlfriend infected me with a serious shopping habit. We'd figured out the best bus routes to all the local malls when we couldn't beg a ride from her mom (my mom, it seems, had better things to do with her time). We'd head out with our wallets full of my meager salary from the fast food restaurant where I worked, and her meager allowance, and we'd shop for OP t-shirts and Brass Plum rayon pants and whatever else was in style that season. And when we ran out of money; when we found we needed, more than anything else, to have a hamburger at Red Robin, we'd take the purchases back.

Nordstrom was our favorite back then, and it's still great for those who have a hard time with commitment; the department store's return policy is legendary for its flexibility. Taking recently-purchased items back for cash is really one of the most efficient ways of making quick cash.

Not only are you typically able to get your full purchase price back if you have a receipt (except for some categories like electronics, for which stores often charge a "restocking" fee); but you'll reduce your stuff and pay penance for your spending habit, too.

Of course, if you've made your purchases with a credit card, you'll only get a credit, and a good thing, too -- buying items on credit and taking them back when you need to pay for your power bill is an indication that you're buying too much on credit! Try cutting up your credit cards and only paying for purchases with debit. Then you'll have a simultaneous benefit: the ability to get cash if you need it, and the sobering influence when every purchase you make has an immediate impact on your available funds.

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